Monthly Archives: September 2013

Leicester blog Friday, Rob

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Just a short one readers. Friday we were in Leicester. I got off the train raring to go. I actually had a little time to spare so went to go and see Leicester Cathedral and the planned Richard III monument. It’s a cause close to my heart so if you fancied signing the e-petition to make sure that his body remains in Leicester rather than being moved to York then I’d appreciate it. Exactly why it’s so important to me is a subject for another blog (in fact I think I will write a post on my own site about it) so for now just visit and watch my own space theatremad.wordpress for updates.

So enough about dead kings. To the show. Well today was an interesting one. About one-third of the audience was young – members of a youth group run by Leicester LGBT Centre. The overall audience was also probably the least theatrical so far too. Several people found some of the theatrical conventions confusing and were happy to tell us so. Indeed, our use of audio was discussed dividing the group’s opinion; several younger members felt starved of visual stimuli during this; others found the images created through voice very potent. It’s also worth bearing in mind that this stage was deliberately bare bones, to bring characters off the page and present to people.

James, the wonderfully helpful technician at Curve added some lights for us, though, I’m not sure what this added to what we’d created. It brought an added formality – a ‘professional’ hue, perhaps taking a little away from the informal context we set out with and raising or mis-aligning expectations.

So  a good show, a brilliantly mixed audience in a hot room under the lights, and a youthful perspective on feedback. An older man did talk about the importance of such events taking place in Leicester, which was seconded by younger local voices in the room. Leicester turned out, good.

I did warn you this would be short. Fear not, Newcastle blog post to come, which will be heartfelt as it’s the last. Also, while I remember, I met one of the readers today – a truly lovely lady whom I hope is reading now. It was lovely to meet her and nice to know I actually have readers. So until the next time – stay fabulous!

Rob Beck

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Rupal interviews Bobby live at 14:00

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I think in families, lying is the norm… Rupal Rajani interviews me today just after 2pm on lunchtime show for BBC Radio Leicester. Catch it live. A few hours remain to get those tickets.

the day before Leicester

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Hello, it feels like it’s been a while to just chit-chat. Thursday today. A long day. It’s getting darker far earlier. I’ve now experienced driving on Rivelin Valley Road in darkness a few times. It looks enchanted, but requires concentration; more evident when tired.

Start rehearsals for another show on Monday in Morley (Leeds) but that’s another story… Will just say we’re booked into Ztudio which apparently is run by Francesca MacDuff-Varley (the blonde dancer in the final three of The Apprentice 2013). This is mildly amusing, I’m not sure why. I hope the venue is very good for the team leading to lots of creativity.

Leicester O’ Leicester, here we come. So what do I actually know about Leicester? Probably not that much. Not been there too often. It’s fairly central in the country. I performed there with a fellow graduate in 1996/7 in a piece called ‘On Becoming a Woman’. I operated the live camera and didn’t inhabit the stage. Not having been there much I can’t have too strong an opinion. Yes, it has one of the largest Asian populations in the country. I imagine has many good eateries and gold jewellers. The Divali fireworks even make the national news on the occasion. The National Space Centre is there. I think I’ll stop; not sure where I’m going with this. I need to bring it back to Beneath the Surface.

Sheffield was greaaat the other day. Two whole days of other stuff happening. All the team split and gone its own way to then reconvene again tomorrow. We meet at 4pm for a 7pm event. Just thinking now, geographically Leicester’s good for all team: me from Sheffield, Kate from Nottingham, Steve and Rochi from Birmingham, Carl, Dharmesh and Rob from London.

I have a sweet friend coming tomorrow, Fran, aka my Delhi Farishta. We met last October in a queue in the International Tourist Reservation Bureau at New Delhi Train Station. I was wanting to get a Shatabadi seated class train to Punjab as soon as. The queue snaked around the room. Upon entering the room it took a few moments to work out where the end was even though it was quite neat and orderly. Fran, came in after me, and did exactly what I did, looked from one side of the room to the other, trying to assess what’s what. She asked me or I told her, and we spoke. So we ended up chatting as we snaked around the room to the help desks up front, exchanging life stories of sorts, or she learnt mine, she was very good at asking questions enabling a story to flow. With the slightest encouragement, I can talk.

I wasn’t able to get a train. The earliest I could get was a sleeper train arriving the following morning. Fran very kindly offered for me to dump my ruck sack in her room, rest there if needed and hang out too doing some touristy things if desired. Dharmesh5It was so very open hearted of this woman I’d just met and I was very touched. We did hang out and have some fun. The moment before the altercation in Old Delhi at the Jama Masjid (Shah Jahan’s mosque in his Shajahanabad), in hindsight was a highlight. Noticing that we were foreigners a local guy tried to rip us off by charging Fran an entrance fee. Rochi1These moments can get so fraught; yet on another level it’s about survival and opportunity/enterprise/exploitation/an easy buck. Ah, yes, we also went to one of my favourite haunts in Delhi, Humayun’s Tomb (the second Mughal Emperor). Walking through the main archway, the building appears as if from nowhere, sitting serene and elegant. The char bagh design aids perspective. And then when facing any eighth aspect  you feel a satisfaction in the pit of your stomach from the symmetry  of the structure. Fran was good fun, a kindred spirit to connect with in a vast city over 10-11 hours. It will be very lovely to see her tomorrow, She’s coming with her brother.

So tomorrow night we’re in Leicester. We hope for a good crowd of men, women, gay, straight, Asian, other, just people! Book your tickets here.

 

Sheffield rocks, Rob blogs…

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Well, well, well Sheffield you do surprise us. Before I begin though, what a day it was – I felt like I’d hardly stopped moving all day. Jumped on a train in the morning to be whisked ‘oop north’, arrived with an hour to wander around Sheffield which was resplendent in the autumn sunshine, and then straight down to business at the theatre where we had to set up, chat about the previous show, and then perform. And then, sat back down on a train heading in the opposite direction, wondering where all the hours of the day went. Home beckoned, but certainly not because the show was anything less than brilliant. CrucibleDay_cropped

So, details then – our illustrious writer, Carl Miller, had some notes yesterday which resulted in a bit of a shake up on some of the scenes in the piece. I often find this is a great way to keep actors on their toes and to ensure that everything is kept crisp and fresh. In fact, I think some of the script was the best I’ve ever seen it and certainly the audience responded really well.

I should also point out that, Sheffield, you provided us with our biggest audience yet (Go Sheffield!) and what a great audience it was. I counted twenty-six heads and all of them thoroughly screwed on and engaged with the piece. A very creative audience too – some poets, some playwrights and a fair few theatre-makers. AdelphiReadyThe result being that we had some great discussions about the characters and how they made the audience feel. One gentleman responded to one of the characters by saying it was nice to hear parental voices and that, while we didn’t actually hear from her at the end, the mother with the tea cups (or, interestingly, bangles perhaps) represented a more positive angle where parents could be accepting – an interesting follow on from the discussions we were having at mac birmingham.

For the first time yesterday I was able to have a very in-depth discussion with one man who had come from a very similar family background to me. I enjoyed talking about how a small family can sometimes seem very restricting because the support we crave can only come from a select number of people and how, in many ways, we had grown our support network from the communities we inhabited so as to have a larger group of people we could reply on for love and acceptance. By the way, readers, this is not to decry the support I get from my family whom I love and am very grateful for, but sometimes a person needs a larger foundation and this can often come from one’s community of friends.

Interestingly in this instance, I am maybe guilty of forgetting  that my family has feelings – something we talked about last night and I found very interesting. We expect so much from our families and yet how much do we really give back to them? AdelphiPairDiscussionOne gentleman raised the issue that, after coming out to his mother, she refused to talk about it and, when finally pressed on the subject, responded with “why should I talk about it, nobody asks me about my life!” – a really interesting idea and one that has definitely made me stop and think about how engaged I am with my family’s troubles and issues. I would like to hope I am not all take, take, take but the conversation yesterday encouraged me to think about this.

So I think that will be enough about last night. We’re now over half-way through the run. Leicester is our next stop on Friday. And then Newcastle on Friday. I hope you’ll have a read of that post when I’ve written it. Finally made it home by 2am…good job I wasn’t working in the morning…oh wait, I did! Deep joy! Until the next time – stay fabulous!

(Robert Beck’s future projects include assisting on a commission by Transport for London to commemorate the workers that came over from the West Indies and the Caribbean in the ’40s and ’50s to work on the tubes and buses  as well as assistant directing a production of Treasure Island – both with The Greenwich and Lewisham Young People’s Theatre. He will also be working with Dickie Beau on a number of workshops in October. Follow him on Twitter @Rhubarb1992…I know he asks this in every post but do it anyway!)

4 days more – radio interview with Ruchi Tandon

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BBC Journalist Ruchi Tandon, visited us in Birmingham last week. She spoke to one of our interviewees from last autumn and me. This piece was aired on BBC Asian programmes local radio across the regions on Sunday (22nd) just gone. It is available to listen online for another 4 days here. It starts 54.45 and ends 59.20.

Paulette Edwards Interviews Bobby – 14:40 today!

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BobbyPollockPaulette Edwards of BBC Radio Sheffield just recorded an interview with me. It will be aired at 2.40pm today on her show. Listen here.

Numbers for Sheffield today are at 26. Expecting a few of my new city people and avid project supporters tonight.

Rob blogs Birmingham

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Hello again, dear readers. I am writing to you, not from Glasgow as suggested in my last post, but from the safety of my own home. It appears that, as is often the case with me, I was stressing rather too much and it turns out my journey to Midland’s Arts Centre (Mac), MacEntrancein Birmingham, though now re-branded as mac birmingham, was easier than I had anticipated.

For future reference, it is a very simple bus ride from the centre of Birmingham – although I’m sure you’ll have a much better sense of navigation than I do! The building itself is gorgeous and I was surprised at how picturesque it was!

Another guilty confession, readers, but despite professing to be a theatre-maker who has spent eighteen years in the West Midlands, I had never visited Mac before but boy do I wish I had. Clearly I have spent far too much time in the likes of Manchester and London and have neglected the amazing venues us Midlanders have on our doorsteps.

Well anyway, to the matter at hand, by which I mean Beneath the Surface event number 3!! I don’t know what it was about this performance but I really thought it was the best one yet. The performed extracts were very well done (apart from a slight mix-up on the sound levels…anybody sitting on the right-hand side of the room might be ever so slightly deaf in one ear now) and once again there were plenty of surprises in how the audience reacted to parts of the script.

MacRiverThere seemed to be a more relaxed and vocal atmosphere in the room with audience members laughing harder at the jokes in the script and exchanging glances with one another throughout. This may have been to do with the number that we had in – our largest audience yet – and once again an eclectic mix of men, women, white, Asian, straight and gay. There were also a significant number of older people which I found very interesting and made a point of talking to after the show – but more on that in a bit.

One thing I really noticed at this performance was how the audience in Birmingham was very keen to dive straight in to talking about the issues raised by the piece and to discuss these with much greater ferocity than I have thus far witnessed. Indeed, there was very little talk about the theatricality of the piece but a much greater emphasis on the themes raised in the work.

The discussion at one point intensified with one man saying how he would have preferred some lighter stories which celebrated tolerant parents as well as the stories that condemn the prejudices of others. While one woman countered this by saying the whole point of this piece was to raise awareness of those who find being gay and South Asian extremely torturous and that by including too many “happy” stories risked diluting the poignancy of the piece. Personally, I think that both are right. This work is not simply about telling horror stories of people who can’t/won’t be true to themselves and are tortured by it but should very definitely celebrate those who are open and proud and have found a way of gaining acceptance. Yet the piece should be about balance with both the lighter and darker stories being given equal airing. At the end of the day, the purpose of the piece is to tell stories about contemporary British Asian gay lives and to do that the whole spectrum of experiences must be examined

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I mentioned earlier in this post how there was a significantly larger proportion of older audience members at Mac than there had been at either London or Smethwick. I think this is a very interesting point to make and may have led to one of the most fascinating discussion points of the evening. The piece itself is made up of both younger and older voices. Indeed, the voices of the two Indian parents (if this isn’t making much sense to you then it is possibly because you haven’t seen the show and I would therefore direct you to the bookings page where there are still tickets left for two of our three remaining dates) represent the older generation who still have trouble accepting and might even find the idea of homosexuality abhorrent. Yet it is simplistic to state that the older generation is prejudiced and the younger generation tolerant. One older Asian lady that I talked to described the piece as “completely new” to her – she had seen the event listed and thought she would give it a go. Yet as our conversation continued I saw how adamantly she believed that supporting those you love and care about, no matter what, was what made you a family and I found myself thinking that her presence here was no mistake. She wanted to learn more so she could continue to be supportive to those that she loved. This was put into stark contrast when I heard about the abuse a young Asian teen had received from his peers when he came out at school. It struck me that in many cases the older generation can be instrumental in teaching the younger generation to be tolerant too. Cast your minds back to my London blog, the story of the young boy teaching his grandmother about tolerance through his unbiased innocence and you’ll find, as I have done, that every generation needs to be taught tolerance and that it is down to families and communities to do this teaching and that if we all practice and teach acceptance then suddenly the world might begin to change.

As well as these incredibly deep revelations, we also found the time to have some fun with the discussions. For the first time in the workshops so far we had people sharing the ten words they would like to impart to a character in the script. While they were all very insightful, I do remember one lady using her ten words to ask one of the characters out for a coffee! I’m smiling to myself as I write this as I can just imagine that character going on a date with one of the audience – it just seems like something they’d do! I also remember the words “love risk” being mentioned as part of someone’s ten words and I thought that was such a great phrase…I think I might have it embroidered onto a cushion!

So a slightly longer blog this time but one that I think deserved a few more words. I left Birmingham buzzing, both because of the performances which I think are getting better and better with each venue and also because of the discussion and the topics we touched upon. I hope our next event in Sheffield will be just as good! So until the next time – stay fabulous!

 Rob Beck (is guest blogger for Beneath the Surface) 

Smethwick blog Rob!

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Time to do it all again! After a couple of days off – which felt very strange after having spent so much time with everybody last week – we reconvened at Smethwick library yesterday, raring to go for Beneath the Surface event 2!

There was a considerably more relaxed feel in the room when I arrived. SmethwickLibraryWe’d done it once so why shouldn’t we be able to do it again? The post-Southbank event discussion highlighted an intensity in the room during the event. We understood part of this was the direct relevance of the content for most of the audience. Some of this would have been aided by the character of the room like the low ceiling and so on. And finally, probably somewhat informed by our own first show apprehension. We decided that we consciously needed to make the space warmer for the audience. We played some music on arrival and just generally tried to be more at ease…easier said than done.

The audience was slightly smaller than had booked. Apparently, through some quirk of irony, there was some postcode confusion for a few; some had been directed to The Smethwick Conservative Club rather than the library…without wishing to get political, I can think of nothing the Tories would love more than our audience arriving at their club! Still, we had a good number through the doors. Interestingly, today’s audience was made up of families in the main and there was a more even cultural mix of Asians and other communities. There were  a few supporters of the project in too – my Dad for one! So again, it was a very warm and receptive audience.

The performers are definitely gaining confidence in performing their parts. Their smooth delivery is a marvel to watch and, personally, I have always loved listening to them enunciate their lines. During the audio extracts I find myself just listening to the hard consonants and softer vowels and the range they perform with – it’s magical! SmethwickSet-Up

Then it was on to the discussion after the show. Again, it was great to hear people’s reactions to what they’d seen and how their own experiences affecting their engagement with the piece. One man was very articulate in expressing his belief that you can be both gay and Indian and that while we collectively feel that it is something we cannot talk about, actually on an individual basis we are very free and open with discussing these ideas.

Similarly, I had a very interesting discussion about how the concept of family represents the idea of unconditional support and love, whether you come from a very large family or a very small one. I come from a very small, close-knit family while some of the people I talked to come from very large, extended ones. Yet we both agreed that a family takes care of each other and supports it’s members. It was interesting how people from such different backgrounds can hold very similar beliefs and I found it fascinating to discuss and listen.

So hot off the tail of Smethwick, we are in Birmingham tonight at mac birmingham. God knows what state I’m going to arrive in – ironically, while I am a Midlander through and through I have absolutely no idea how to work the bus system in Birmingham! So this may be my last blog…that or I’ll be writing to you from Glasgow or something equally ridiculous! Until the next time – stay fabulous!

(Follow Robert Beck on Twitter @Rhubarb1992…because he’s lonely and wants more followers!) 

Sunday’s BBC Radio Sheffield Interview

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After waking up on a bright autumnal morning in Borough on Sunday, we returned to collect the car from Southbank Centre. The weekend market was just getting set-up. I had a lovely chat with a Portuguese woman of Indian descent. She was a graphic designer, who came to London to complete her masters two years back; she was moonlighting on the market. She was very friendly and asked what I was going to see at RFH. I told her that we’d performed there the previous night (in a space within the Southbank Centre). And from there on she took an interest in the project’s subject.

We headed back up north via Maidenhead, thinking it would be good to see a friend’s new home. His parents were visiting him from India. We were fed delicious prawn biryani and Andhra chicken. I fell asleep afterwards. This was acceptable and not considered rude.

We continued our drive north arriving in Sheffield at 19:50. We made our way straight to BBC Sheffield. Shawkat Hashmi, a very pleasant producer had recently been in touch with me to set up an interview for the Sunday evening Eastern Air programme. As we were together it made sense for Abhi to come along too. I think that was the first broadcast interview we’ve done together. Yes, he made a contribution too.

The interview was conducted by Waheed Akhtar. It’s available here on listen again for another 6-days. It runs from 2:06 – 2:21.

Beneath the Surface in Sheffield tickets available here.

Rob’s Beneath the Surface London blog

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Well readers, that’s it – the event is now up and running. The hard work that has gone into the rehearsal period has paid off and we have now performed to our first audience! It’s great to get people in to watch what we’ve created and to see how they react to it. I don’t mind telling you there were some parts that they reacted to quite differently to what we had anticipated and the whole thing was a real eye opener for us all…but more on that later.

So let’s start at the beginning. Driving down with the producer, Bobby Tiwana. I met him in Wolverhampton and together we made our way down to London. Generally a good ride…apart from at the end when my perhaps questionable navigational skills sent us over Waterloo Bridge an extra time (the other way) than was necessary…oops. Never mind, we made it to Southbank Centre in one piece and met up with the rest of the team who had arrived and were ready to go.

There’s something electric in the room before a show. The nerves and the anticipation of the performers and the production team. We knew that we’d put the work in but we all just hoped that it’d pay off; that the odd line still escaping the performers would be cemented; and that we’d get a good crowd in who would be up for discussion and giving feedback.

So at 5pm the doors opened and in they came. A real mix of men, women, couples and people on their own, black, white, and Asian. I counted seventeen people, which for the first event was a great number. It was also a friendly audience, made up of several project acquaintances and supporters. Some of our interviewees from the research phase were in; as well as a few participants from Bobby and Carl’s Alchemy workshop from earlier this year. My friend from uni (if your memory needs refreshing then please refer to my very first blog) was in the audience too. A good audience to start on, not that it did much to dispel the tension from the performers who were about to present their work to a paying public and to the directors who had invested so much time and effort in the piece.

From the very first moment there were surprises. The audience reacting to one of the characters whom they did not realise was part of the show was something we’d talked about but not really come up with a plan for. In this instance, the friendliness of the audience threw Dharmesh and for a second I thought he might trip up. However, he carried on masterfully and it was interesting to see how the ripple of understanding spread throughout the room.

Similarly, reactions to the seating changes were interesting. While we had expected people to turn around to face bits of performance that were taking place behind them, the general attitude of this audience was that these moments were to be listened to and not watched. Therefore, parts of the direction may need to be reworked in order to take this into account or not. Of course, we will have to see what other audiences in other cities do as well.

I hope all this description isn’t too mind boggling, readers. There was so much going on that evening and much of it needs to be recorded. You might like to view it as me trying to capture the essence of the evening; the magic that was happening and the chemistry in the room. If bits of it don’t make sense then I implore you to come to one of the events and experience the content for yourself, then you too, will have a view on what most worked for you and what might be re-worked.

The discussions that followed the presentation of the rehearsed extracts were fascinating. I guess one thing that I will try and do too is to assess how each city and the people from it are different. I think that London, being so metropolitan and open attracts people who are not afraid to speak their minds and discuss, certainly in a venue like this. While there was maybe an initial shyness, people were quickly volunteering information on what the concepts of family and community mean to them and how they reacted to the piece and what might be done differently. I took heart that many of the LGB Asians who had come along we’re happy to share their experiences – it was truly amazing to hear what they had to say. One lady hadn’t spoken to her father in seven years and had built her own family from friends who supported her and her lifestyle in a way her family couldn’t right now. Similarly, one gentleman revealed to us that once he would create different personas for different communities and that it was both tiring and frustrating having to be so different depending on who he was with. Stories like these make the whole project seem worthwhile and made me realise that what we’re doing is creating a platform for these ideas and experiences to be shared with the world.

Perhaps one of the the most touching stories was told by a woman of African descent. She drew comparisons between her community and the south Asian community; how both are still very traditional communities and that this can often lead to prejudice. Yet she told the story about how with every generation there comes a greater level of tolerance and that the younger generations can be instrumental in dispelling the prejudices of older ones. She gave the example of her five year-old son who, when taken to a wedding some months back, asked what kind of wedding it was -“…two daddies?  Or two mummies?” And when told that is was a wedding between and man and a woman replied “HOW STRANGE!” Touching and lighthearted yet, apparently, this child’s indiscriminate tolerance had affected the views of his grandmother who herself has become much more accepting of different lifestyles. It was a story that made us all smile but also affected many of us and made us think.

So that will probably do for now, readers. London has provided us with an excellent start to the run and has already given us loads to think about. I can’t wait for the next workshop performance event on Wednesday at Smethwick Library. Now if you’ll excuse me – as you can imagine, there was much celebrating after the success of the first show and I was somewhat delicate the following day… To catch an event near you. Until the next time, stay fabulous.

Rob Beck